By Andrea Rosa
Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons, is a live-action retelling of the thrilling and profound life of Harriet “Minty” Tubman. Lead actress and esteemed Broadway star Cynthia Erivo portrays the historical figure representing this newly released biopic. Although the film carries the weight of heavy cultural implications, it also offers musical and visual elements to make for a more balanced viewing experience.
The producers of this movie did a wonderful job of providing scenes full of emotion and connection to Harriet. My favorite shot in the entire film is a moment when the audience can see Harriet in the glory of all of her empowerment. It is the first time she stands in the woods as a member of the underground railroad, and she sings with a commanding voice to the plantation slaves who she has come to bring to freedom. As Harriet kept the acapella scenes coming, Erivo’s breathtaking tone coupled with the close-up images of her brave expressions left me speechless in the theatre.
Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Harriet’s makeup team in no way glamorized or elevated Tubman’s appearance for the big screen. Erivo properly came across as tired, starving, and sick when that was the look that the character called for. The level to which Harriet kept things natural, realistic, and neutral is impressive and unfortunately rare for Hollywood. For such a virtuous character who declares, “Liberty or Death. If I can’t one, I’ll have the other,” conventional beauty was rightfully low on the priority list.
Harriet felt more like an action movie than a historical biopic at times. I found this issue to be the most prominent during the height of the rising action and climax because the chase-scenes were back to back. Albeit exciting, the dramatic cuts, heavy-handed suspenseful soundtrack, and repetitive runaways felt overdone by the near-end of the film. Formulaic style crept into the plot, camera work, and dialogue as well, leaving Harriet falling flat in places it needed uniqueness and impact. The story of Harriet Tubman deserves slightly more care than Lemmon’s cliche triumph shots and commercialized depiction offer.
Overall, Rotten Tomato critics’ 72% and audience’s 92% rating for this film loosely align with the 8.5/10 I give to the production as a whole. The pros of Harriet highly outweigh the cons, and director Lemmons’ respectful attention to detail, history, and American culture make this movie one worth watching. Though the plot may feel predictable, Tubman’s life is incredibly intriguing, the cast is extremely talented, and the end of the film leaves its audience feeling inspired.
Harriet released on November 1st, and will likely be showing through next month. Anyone interested in the premise of this film should definitely experience Harriet in theatres.